The deadline for custodial companies to apply to work at Metro Nashville Public Schools has passed, but critics are still crying foul over the district’s hiring process.
Sixteen companies submitted proposals to provide custodial and groundskeeping services at MNPS prior to last Friday’s cut-off date, according to a statement released by school administrators.
The move to outsource the district’s custodial positions has been supported by Director of Schools Jesse Register as a way to save more than $5 million during a tight budget year. These and other cuts are expected to be a part of Mayor Karl Dean’s final budget proposal to be released later this week.
But according to Mark Naccarato of the Service Employees International Union Local 205, which represents custodians at Metro schools, the district has been negotiating with contractors for nearly a year, “even before anybody knew what the revenue picture looked like.”
Emails between school administrators and custodial company leaders, including Knoxville-based GCA Services Group, suggest discussions of outsourcing date back to November 2009, months before Register had proposed his budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year.
“The whole process has been sort of crooked,” Naccarato said. “Overall, the city needs to look at how we do these kind of deals.”
MNPS spokesperson Olivia Brown downplayed the district’s correspondence with custodial companies as part of a “fact-finding” mission in anticipation that cuts would have to be made because the district had depleted its reserve funds and was still facing a shortfall.
“It takes a lot of work to create a budget proposal,” Brown said. “It’s not just a three-month process ... We’ve been saying since even last year that this year would be a difficult budget if revenues didn’t improve.
“It’s as though they [the SEIU] are trying to make it appear as though there’s something inappropriate, but I think it’s very appropriate to explore and to get information,” Brown added.
But criticism doesn’t end there. Naccarato also alleges that representatives of various custodial companies have essentially infiltrated the hallways of Metro schools in an attempt to sell their proposals to school custodians and staff.
“We have people in the schools who are telling us that contractors are in the schools and have been for the last two weeks, either taking custodians out to lunch or pitching them on their company,” Naccarato said. “And that’s been going on during TCAP [testing].”
Brown categorically rejected the charge. She said the accusation simply isn’t true.
Over the next month, the district is expected to review and rank the 16 applicants before suggesting a recommendation to the school board at its May 25 meeting.